With the NorWOSSA playoffs fast approaching, every game is crucial from here on out for the Muskie girls' hockey team.
The Muskies are playing with confidence heading into the stretch run of the season after pulling out a comeback 3-2 shootout win over the rival St. Thomas Aquinas Saints in Kenora last Thursday before then being close in each game and coming away with a 1-3 record in a series of exhibition games against Thunder Bay teams over the weekend.
“The exhibition weekend was tough,” Muskie head coach Nicole Clarke admitted.
"We came out with three losses and a win. On Friday, I thought the girls played well but just came out a little flat. We had travelled the night before to Kenora and then that day to Thunder Bay, so travel can be a challenge for any team.
“Sunday, the girls played well and we were able to finish the weekend with a win,” she noted.
The Muskies opened play on Friday in Thunder Bay with a narrow 4-3 loss to the Bantam 'AA' Queens.
Hailey Bombay, Jill Calder, and Abbie Kenny all scored for the Muskies while Jersey Masson suffered the loss in goal.
The squad then dropped another 3-0 loss to the Midget 'A' Queens on Saturday morning, with Masson again getting tagged with the defeat.
Fort High followed that up with another slim 3-2 loss at the hands of the Midget 'A' Queens that afternoon.
Kenny potted both goals while Kamryn Sandelovich took the loss in goal.
But the Muskies ended play on a positive note, pulling out a 2-1 win over the Midget Fury on Sunday.
Kenny and Calder both found the back of the net to pace the offence while Sandelovich earned the win between the pipes.
As mentioned, the Muskies had gone into the weekend fresh off a come-from-behind win against the Saints last Thursday that saw their NorWOSSA record improve to 6-1.
Brynn Rawn and Mariah White both tallied in the first period to stake the first-place Saints (7-0-0-2) to a 2-0 lead after 20 minutes.
But the tides changed for Fort High in the third period, with Kenny potting a pair of goals to know it at 2-2 and force extra time.
After overtime solved nothing, a shootout was needed to determine a winner where Kenny came through clutch again to secure the extra point for the Muskies as she tallied the lone goal in extra shots.
Sandelovich stood tall to garner the win in goal, turning aside all three Saints' shooters she faced in the shootout.
“It was a huge confidence booster heading into this crucial point in the season,” Clarke said of the win over the Saints, who the Muskies trail now by just four points in the standings.
"From here, every point makes a difference and getting that win in our last league game against the Saints is awesome for us moving forward.
“The Saints got two quick goals on us, I knew the girls were nervous knowing what was at stake and we came out a little shaky,” she admitted.
“As the game progressed, we started to shake the nerves and play our game. Abbie Kenny's first goal of the game gave the girls some momentum and the game turned around form there.”
The Muskies were slated to resume NorWOSSA play last night when they hosted the fourth-place Sioux Lookout Warriors (2-5), with the outcome not known as of press time.
It was also the team's annual “Seniors Night”, where they recognized their graduating players Calder and Sandelovich.
Up next, the black-and-gold then will be hosting the annual Scott Clendenning Memorial Showcase this Friday through Sunday which this year includes a boys' division.
The Muskies will open play on Friday morning when they take on the Saints at 10:30 a.m. at the '52 Canadians Arena.
On Saturday, the squad will battle the Warriors at 8 a.m. before then taking on the Kenora Broncos at 12:30 p.m.
Both games will take place at “The Duke” (Couchiching Arena).
Fort High then will wrap up play at the “Showcase” on Sunday morning when they battle Confederation College at 10 a.m. at the '52 Canadians Arena.
“We have high expectations of our girls in our upcoming games,” Clarke said.
"They've shown us what they are capable of and we expect optimal effort no matter who we are playing. T
he Sioux Lookout game on Tuesday is Seniors Night, so it will be a great way to finish our last home league game celebrating the girls who are graduating.
“We are also looking forward to our home tournament,” she added.
“It will give us a chance to continue to clean up some things prior to our double header against Dryden on Feb. 18.”